By Stephen Bugno
Spain is known for its fierce regionalism, which makes traveling to each corner of the country a very different and interesting experience. It’s also known for its food culture, rich history, and fine climate. One warning about Spain: Be careful, because you might end up liking it so much that you don’t leave.
Galicia is a remote and weathered region in the northwest of Spain. I walked through Galicia for a couple weeks en route to Santiago de Compostela, home to the cathedral that signifies an end for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, or Way of Saint James pilgrimage. Galicia is so green that it reminds me of Ireland. Although the relation is not only superficial; ancient Celts actually settled the region. Galicia is a territory with a people proud of their distinct language, culture, and cuisine. It is also one of the most underrated regions of Spain, with some of the best seafood in the world and a lesser-visited coastline.
On the coast of the Bay of Biscay in northern Spain, bordering France, is Basque Country. Its fierce regionalism has led to violence in the past, but that’s not what this region should be known for. Its language is an anomaly, unrelated to any of those surrounding it, known as a language isolate. San Sebastian, the queen of Basque resorts, is a universally favorite city in Spain. Nearby Bilbao is home to the iconic Guggenheim museum, and some good surfing. In either city, you can’t go wrong with a night out on the town, sampling the exquisite pintxos (Basque tapas).
Catalonia, in the northeast of Spain, borders France as well. Like other regions, it has its own language, Catalan. Visitors flock to self-confident and progressive Barcelona: the art, style, and food capital of Spain. In fact, Anthony Bourdain has called Catalonia the world’s new premier food destination (yes, even better than France). In addition to great beaches on the Costa Brava, Catalonia is home to the Dali Triangle, the architecture of Gaudi, as well as some of the finest Romanesque churches in Spain.
I lived in Madrid for almost a year and absolutely loved it. The lifestyle of the madrileños sucks outsiders in and keeps them. Hanging out at the traditional cafes and bars around the city, shopping in the crammed Rastro flee market, and a Sunday stroll through the Parque del Retiro should all be part of your visit. If it’s art you like, Madrid is home to three world-class art museums: the Prado, Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza.
Four main islands make up the Balearic chain: Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza, and Formentera. For the last 30 or so years, the reputation of these Islands has led many German, English, and Scandinavians to visit Ibiza. Ibiza is the dance-until-dawn and gay-friendly capital of Europe. The best of the best DJs are flown in from all corners of the continent. Most revelers sleep their hangovers off the following day on any of the fine beaches under nearly-always perfect skies. The Balearic Islands may be mass tourism destinations, but if you look carefully, there are unspoiled and picturesque old-world towns on the island. Consider agro-tourism or exploring the countryside by car or scooter.
Comprising the southern part of Spain, Andalusia is the most quintessentially Spanish region: a land of bullfighting, flamenco, sherry, and ruined castles. Great cities like Seville, with its towering cathedral and Semana Santa festival; and Granada and Cordoba with their unforgettable Moorish architecture and history. After-all, this land was occupied by Muslims for 700 years. From trekking in Sierra Nevada to the beaches of the famed Costa del Sol, it would almost be criminal to visit Spain without stopping here.
Getting a more in-depth look into Spain
For a closer look at Spain, its people, and cultures, consider Volunteering with Pueblo Ingles or VaughanTown.
If you’re thinking about teaching English in Spain, read Teaching English in Madrid.
3 thoughts on “Highlights of Spain”
Spain is truly an amazing country that should be on anyone’s travel list. It has everything to offer, you never get bored in this country.
Great article! I had an apartment in Malaga for a couple months in 2005 and traveled for about 5 weeks of my time there. You’ve reminded me how much more I would love to explore there. One of my major highlights was visiting Parque Nacional Odessa in the north about 4-5 hours by bus from Barcelona. We did a one way hiking trip along the Spanish and French boarder in the Pyrenees sleeping in a mountain refuge (refugio) high above tree line and hiking down a recently opened trail that dropped us into a very small village with one hospedaje (bed and breakfast). Javier and Sonia were amazing hosts and dropped us off the next morning in a place where we could hitchhike back to civilization.
I’m living here now and it’s bloody brilliant. Can’t get enough of it really. I’ve even mastered ser y estar.
Now that’s commitment eh?